Chuck and Charlie Carlson

Chuck and Charlie Carlson, father and son, number one citizen and mayor of Palisade respectively—we met with them on Thursday afternoon at Charlie’s house on the Great River Road. The house was once his father’s actually, but Charlie bought it from him a few years back. At that point Chuck moved into town, a “city slicker” he calls himself. The house is on the opposite side of the road as the river, but Charlie also owns the land on the other side where he keeps a shed. He grew up with two of his sisters playing in the river over there with the water fluctuating 20 feet he says, coming up to the foot of his shed when it is high and to where you can walk across it when it is low.

Charlie’s two sisters came from Chuck’s second of three marriages. All three of his wives died of cancer, and he says he’s “Baching” now—done with women for a while, maybe just seeking some companionship. Charlie doesn’t buy it though. Chuck makes his daily routine going to Gabby’s, the hotspot for a bite to eat, doing yard work, and sitting in his easy chair—keeping IT company.

Charlie’s days are not too dissimilar from his dad’s these days, despite their age difference, and that’s mainly because of the heat of summer and Charlie’s struggle with Multiple Sclerosis. He’s only recently read up that the summer heat and humidity can exacerbate the condition, so he finds himself needing to stay indoors most days.

Since being diagnosed in 2015, Charlie’s had to leave his work as a general contractor and job at the Blandin Paper Mill and get used to living life differently. His outlook seems realistic and yet positive, while his gait staggers and we’ve been told by others that some days walking is a struggle. However, despite his personal challenge, Charlie is a town leader as Mayor for two terms now—committing time an energy to create real change in this small community.

For a moment the conversation shifted back to that old shed across the road by the river, and how Chuck’s brother Art, Uncle Art, used to live in a camper out there when Charlie was a kid. He had no running water and kept an outhouse that he said he “flushed” once a year in springtime. Flushed into the Mississippi River, that is. 

This Uncle Art never married, unlike Chuck and Charlie who have had 5 wives between them. Apparently he had one love in his life and it didn’t work out, so that was it for him. This bachelor lifestyle is starting to seem a theme along the Great River Road, as just north in Jacobson we met two confirmed bachelors, Kent Lorentzen and Marty Tolvanen as well.

Chuck actually knows all these folks and their families up and down the river because one of his first jobs in the area was delivering fuel and gas to people to heat their homes and fuel their cars. He tells a story of Kent Lorentzen’s mother giving him a discreet window of time to arrive with his delivery where she would have breakfast or dinner, but if he was a minute late, he would miss it! He made sure not to be late. After he quit that job, he drove people to the doctor. He did that together with his third wife.

Like Chuck, Charlie also married and had a family—two sons, one on his way to college and the other still in high school. You can see the pride in Charlie’s face as he speaks of their good grades, interest in science and math—the oldest going into computer science at UMD, the youngest dreaming of becoming a doctor. As Charlie says, “Their mother and I really pushed them not to be like us, not to make the same mistakes we did, and to apply themselves. Just because it’s easy, you still have to put the work in.”

Raising children in Palisade, in a town where now there are no schools—perhaps there are very few children even—could be a challenge. The connectivity of the natural resources in the region and the fellowship of the community appear to make the few families that remain have a reason to stay. That and the propensity for land to not just be bought and sold, but to be family land, passed on generation after generation. Just like this home that Charlie bought from Chuck. 

Charlie has since entirely remodeled the house—new floors, new interior walls, new siding, new basement, new windows, new everything. He showed us a photo of the old white sided house and it is night and day with the rough-sawn cedar siding and brick-tiled accents. It feels like a lodge. Gorgeous, inside and out. And the piece-de-resistance is the antique tractor in the barn right outside! A McCormick-Deering tractor that Chuck’s father Lloyd Carlson bought in 1927, then sold to numerous others before Chuck bought it back and he and Charlie refurbished it to like-new condition—what a beauty!

This father-son duo is quite a team, quite a tribute to Palisade in and of themselves. An honor to have sat and had a nice tall glass of ice water with them.